· Decision of the Complaints Committee 02363-15 Arif v Manchester Evening News
Summary of complaint
1. Vanessa Arif complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Manchester Evening News had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Rochdale Canal killer Jack Smith confesses to TEN unsolved crimes and gets extra jail time”, published on 26 March 2015.
2. The article reported that Jack Smith, a convicted murderer, had confessed to ten unsolved offences, including the burglary of the complainant’s house. The article stated that photographs of the complainant’s late husband, who was murdered in 2006 by an actor who used to appear in TV drama “Shameless”, had been lost in the burglary.
3. The complainant said the newspaper had inaccurately reported in the online article that her husband had been murdered in a “racist attack”; it had been a revenge attack. She expressed concern that the inaccuracy had stirred up racial tensions within her community. She noted that she had lost “in the region of £5,000” in goods in the burglary, not £2,000 in goods, as reported.
4. The complainant considered that the connection the newspaper had drawn between her husband’s murder and the story, the publication of his photograph, and the reference to stolen photographs, had been insensitive and represented an intrusion into her personal grief. She considered that the newspaper had deliberately made reference to her husband’s case because of the notoriety of his murderer.
5. She said the publication of her name and address, the name of her teenage son and a link to an article that contained his photograph, and extracts from her Witness Impact Statement, which had been read out during the proceedings against Jack Smith, had represented an intrusion into her privacy. She said she had serious concerns for her family’s safety as a result of the article, and requested compensation to help them to relocate.
6. The newspaper said it appreciated that the report had been upsetting for the complainant to read, but it said her husband’s murder had been reported previously, and repeating that report did not represent an intrusion into grief in breach of the Editors’ Code.
7. The newspaper accepted, however, that the motive behind the murder was revenge and not race, and it apologised for the inaccuracy in the online article. It said it had sourced the information from the complainant’s son’s Just Giving fundraising page, in which he had stated that his father had been murdered by a man who was “on bail for another racist attack”. The newspaper did not consider that this was a significant inaccuracy. Nonetheless, it offered to correct the detail online and to append the following note:
This article has been amended to make clear that Changez Arif was murdered by Michael Skeffington in a revenge attack, not a racist attack.
8. The newspaper said the complainant’s address had been mentioned in court, and was not private. It also noted that her name had been in the public domain following her husband’s murder, and it had been given in court during Jack Smith’s trial. The newspaper said the murder was relevant to the story because the complainant had provided a Witness Impact Statement, which was read out in court, and which stated that she was still grieving for her late husband, and that photographs of him had been lost in the burglary. Due to the complainant’s concerns, however, the newspaper removed her name and address from the online article.
9. The newspaper said it had made reference to the complainant’s son because it had previously published a story on his fundraising efforts following the death of his father. It provided a link to the article and noted that the story was published with the complainant’s consent and had quoted her. It removed the link to the fundraising story from the article in response to the complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent. Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.
Findings of the Committee
11. The Committee wished to extend its sympathy to the complainant and her family for their loss.
12. The newspaper had inaccurately reported that the complainant’s husband had been murdered in a “racist attack”. It had sourced this information from the complainant’s son’s Just Giving fundraising page, which had implied that his father’s murder had been racially motivated. The newspaper’s reliance on this information did not represent a failure to take care over the article’s accuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point.
13. It was accepted that the murder had been motivated by revenge, and not race. The Committee considered that this represented a significant inaccuracy that required correction. The newspaper had already corrected the online article and had offered to append a footnote that made clear that this detail had been amended. As the error had only appeared online and not in print, this was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii). There was no breach of the Code on this point.
14. The complainant had expressed concern that the newspaper had misreported the value of the goods she had lost in the burglary. The article, however, had made reference to the total value of goods stolen from three addresses. It had not specified the value of the complainant’s stolen property. The Committee did not consider that this was a significant point that would require correction under the terms of Clause 1.
15. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had published private information about her and her son. The complainant’s name, address and Witness Impact Statement had, however, been read out during the course of court proceedings. The information was in the public domain and was not private. The newspaper had also previously published an article about the complainant’s son’s fundraising efforts, which had included his name and photograph. The publication of a link to that article did not represent a breach of Clause 3. In light of the complainant’s concerns for her family’s safety, however, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s decision to remove the link, and her name and address from the online article. The complaint under Clause 3 was not upheld.
16. The terms of Clause 5 relate to the conduct of journalists, and the sensitivity of articles, in cases involving grief or shock. While the Committee understood that the article had been upsetting for the complainant to read, a connection between her husband’s murder and the burglary had been drawn during the proceedings against Jack Smith. The newspaper had been entitled to publish the article, and it had handled the story with appropriate sensitivity. There was no breach of Clause 5.
17. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 31/03/2015Date complaint concluded: 09/07/2015 Back to ruling listing